A few years ago I had a dinner with friends at Shanghai Grill. I remember it as being a good meal, great company, and lots of food to take home. Other than that, nothing makes me recall Shanghai Grill as the best place in Edmonton for xiao long bao, traditional soup dumplings. Maybe because I never had any for dinner and wasn’t paying closely attention to my food as I do now.
My second trip to Shanghai Grill was only because Shanghai 456 was closed as the owners were on vacation. At the time, I had a xiao long bao craving that needed to be fixed ASAP. I was rushed for time and in my desperation, I had ordered the xiao long bao to go. For those of you who haven’t tried xiao long bao (you poor soul), I’ll remind you that it is soup inside a dumpling. As the xiao long bao cooled in the styrofoam container on my way home, the dumpling started to lose it’s shape. It was good, but I still preferred Shanghai 456’s. More soupy, I said. What was I thinking…
This last Saturday, I had a chance to go back to Shanghai Grill and order the xiao long bao (XLB). This time fresh. Hot off the steamer. I was excited.
I was surprised the menu was so extensive when I finally got a chance to look at it. Multiple items, including dim sum, were available for our lunch. Every table around us seemed to have a few of these dishes as well as a combination of dim sum items — all tables had a basket of XLB. Enough said, our group ordered. Not to fret for those who are shy of Chinese cuisine, the menu is user-friendly, with brightly colored photos of popular menu items.
The first to come was the dried scallop tan tan noodle. From past experiences, the tan tan noodle dish is suppose to be spicy. Traditionally, tan tan or dandan, contains preserved vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan peppers, minced pork and scallions over Chinese noodles. In Taiwanese-Chinese cooking, sesame paste is used to replace the spicy sauce, and in American-Chinese cooking, peanut butter is the substitute. Not so much traditional here. It lacked any sort of heat, although Nhan sipped the soup itself and declared it did have a kick. Upon arrival, the smell of peanuts was in the air and by the end of the dish, our Caucasian (yet very Asian) friend, Josh, stated it was basically peanut butter soup over noodles. It was good, nevertheless, although it was missing some greenery that was promised in the menu photo.
The prized soup dumplings came out next. We ordered two kinds: the crab and pork bun and the traditional pork xiao long bao. Both were absolutely delicious! The quality of meat and filling was a lot better than Shanghai 456, the dumpling wrapper slightly more durable. Lots of soup poured out when I bit into mine and both kinds were packed with flavor. For six dumplings, they are at a higher price point than Shanghai 456, but you can most definitely tell the difference between the quality.
Other items we ordered: a pan fried beef dumpling (yum!), steamed rice wrapped around a Chinese donut and dried pork, and the weekend’s special, pan-fried pork buns (the equivalent to Shanghai 456’s san jeen bao). The pan fried beef dumpling was my favorite next to the XLB’s, the flavor profile a bit stronger than other dumplings. Although not a soup dumpling, juices still spilled out in every bite so be careful when you’re eating any dumplings from this place! The steam rice wrapped donut was on the dry side, although it’s expected since they’re all dry ingredients. I much prefer the rice flour wrapped Chinese donut with the soy sauce from other Chinese restaurants. The dried pork was sprinkled with a bit of sugar as well, making the dish a tad confusing — half savory, half sweet. The pan-fried pork buns filled us up at the end of our meal, miniature steam buns, pan-fried on the bottom to make a crispy bite. At this point, I was convinced that any pork-filled bun was from the same recipe and delicious all-around.
By the end of our meal, half of us were starting to get sleepy from being full. Our waitress was kind, refilling our waters frequently and checking up on our orders. She knew the menu well, even giving us tips on how to eat the XLB in case it was our first time. The tips would have been greatly appreciated by the first timer at our table if she had told us that before our meal started, and not at the end. It was humorous though and we had a good laugh.
I would suggest sticking to the XLB’s and the pan-fried beef dumpling if you’re trying out Shanghai Grill for the first time. Keep the staples, and choose one or two other items for variety. I will definitely be back to try more items, perhaps a dinner again. When I told my coworker I had gone to Shanghai Grill over the weekend and compared it to Shanghai 456, she looked at me with a much deserved “I told you so” look. True, I should just listen my Chinese work-mother who frequents Vancouver so often, I’m sure she knows Richmond like the back of her hand. There’s only one more Shanghai restaurant in Edmonton, appropriately, yet confusingly named Shanghai Restaurant and Jesse’s Lounge (wha?) in the Argyl area. I won’t make my executive decision of the best XLB in Edmonton until I’ve tried it… but I’ll have to say, Shanghai Grill will be tough to beat.